Class politics is not dead when billionaires can buy seats

May 23, 2019
A creative adaptation of one of Clive Palmer's ubiquitous billboards.

They say class politics is dead in egalitarian Australia — but what about election 2019?

If one billionaire can literally buy seats in Queensland and another guy can use his media empire to tear the opposition to shreds, class politics is well and truly alive in this country.

Clive Palmer is boasting he spent $50–60 million to help the Liberal-National Coalition win. He didn’t want a seat — remember his large yawns when he was on the cross bench? — nor did he win one. But he has a coal mine or two he’d like to open up in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Christopher “Mr Fix It” Pyne, who prematurely retired from his seat, valiantly defended Palmer on the ABC’s Q&A on May 20. Palmer has “every right” to use “his money” as “he pleases”, Pyne retorted to journalist Alice Workman, who had suggested that the playing field was a little uneven, and that Palmer would want a return on his investment.

The other key player in the blitzkrieg against Labor was Rupert Murdoch. News Limited, a subsidiary of News Corp, now owns all Australia’s major newspapers (with the exception of The Sydney Morning Herald, The AgeThe Financial Review and The West Australian). Murdoch’s newspapers abandoned any pretence of reporting “news” to campaign aggressively against Labor and the Greens.

The fact that money can and does buy votes is hardly new, but never before was it done in such Trumpian style. Now there is a debate on how to impose some sort of truth-in-advertising rules, but how that could be implemented without giving the state more power over all of us is hard to imagine.

The electoral rules regarding third-party campaigners are already rigorous and those with money will always find a way around them, as Palmer and Murdoch’s election interventions underscore.

In the end, our strongest defence is an educated and mobilised community that sees through the lies, the distortions and the spin. A stronger progressive pole in the regions, especially those with little prospect of work apart from coal mines, is also essential.

But how do we get there? Only with patience and a willingness to talk with those who don’t instantly agree with us.

The Coalition government is already spruiking its narrow win as a mandate for policies that will widen the wealth divide and further endanger the environment.

Meanwhile, the Labor opposition is drawing all the wrong conclusions from its election loss and seems to be shifting further to the right and choosing a new leader to appease the billionaires.

Politics in this country right now is volatile, and somewhat bizarre. Activism is one of the strongest antidotes to despair and Green Left Weekly is committed to helping build progressive struggles, wherever they break out, and putting people in touch with each other.

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